The “Hallmark-ization” of Christmas

We’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies lately. Not surprising, given the lack of any other programming worth our time. For the most part, they are all “feel-good” movies with the same basic story line and plot progression. Still, it’s a little like eating rice cakes or unsalted saltine crackers. They fill you up if you consume enough of them, but they’re kind of bland and leave you thirsty. I could never figure out quite why but I think I found an easy answer, and a much deeper answer.

I read an article on another website about how the political left has almost completely managed to purge Christmas of any religious connotation (bear in mind this was written by a conservative author, so weigh it accordingly). That’s the easy answer (you won’t find much Christ in a Hallmark Christmas), for which the proposed solutions tend to be of a superficial variety. “Christians” need to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, and post endless social media messages declaring the need to keep Christ in Christmas. In other words,  all we need is a better PR campaign to counteract the secularization of the holiday.

In the Hallmark world, Christmas solves your relationship problems, brings you the self-realization you’ve always sought, and makes sure everyone has a Merry Christmas full of lights, decorations, presents, and happy ever afters (HEA). Oh, there’s always that one bump in the road before you get to the HEA, but if you just have faith (in what is never clearly delineated) everything is bound to turn out all right.

Now yes, I’m being hard on what is escapist entertainment. But it represents how many people expect Christmas to be, only to be destroyed when reality fails to match the illusion. The problem is the illusion can never match the reality because the world has rejected the truth about what Christmas represents. By eliminating the “religious connotation”,  the holiday (holy day) loses any meaning whatsoever.

All the lights, parties, celebrations and presents of Christmas are part of the same illusion we chase throughout our lives. We try to fill an empty hole in ourselves with “stuff”, pleasure, power, money- you name it. We convince ourselves if we can just find the right one to complete our life, get that job promotion, accumulate enough things, or even get enough followers on social media we will be happy and life will be great. Problem is, those things don’t fit the size and shape of the hole, and we reject the One who does.

We try to make Christmas spirit a matter of the heart. The goal is happiness. But it’s deeper than that. The Spirit of Christmas is a matter of the spirit, and the goal is reclamation and re-establishment of the one relationship that matters more than any other. Christmas stripped of the miraculous story of God’s reaching out to us is just another empty celebration of ourselves.

Hallmark movies are about people who don’t seem to understand what they really need. Most characters are successful, young, attractive people who are doing pretty well in life. But due to some circumstance, there is a chance they won’t enjoy a Merry Christmas. They may wish for a Christmas miracle, but there’s no indication of Who they expect to provide it. Is it Fate, is it Luck, is it Santa Claus? Why bother asking for something from impersonal or imaginary sources?

Hallmark tells pretty stories, but they leave me empty because the outcome depends on people, fate, and/or luck. And looking at my own life, none of those have been very dependable. The world’s idea of Christmas is an empty box because if you don’t already have what the world decides is valuable, you won’t get a present under your tree.

God’s version is much more satisfying. To a world without answers or hope, He chooses to send Himself in the form of a baby, to be given birth by a young woman who had never even been with a man. His birth was announced by heavenly agents to the lowliest members of society who may not have even understood Who they were seeing. It was an event that changed everything. It is the gift that truly keeps on giving.  And it is a gift for everyone willing to receive it.

I don’t really care how the world chooses to celebrate Christmas, or whatever they call it. I enjoy the lights, the caroling, and all the trappings that go with the holiday. I love Christmas trees. I don’t believe December 25 is the actual date of Christ’s birth (the Bible never reveals that bit of information and never binds the celebration on believers or anyone else). I think we probably put too much emphasis on Christmas as domestic performance art, trying to impress our friends and acquaintances. To me, Christmas is a holiday of the spirit; a time to remember that God injected Himself into human history because of His love for us. Any opportunity to think about God and His son Jesus is one to celebrate. It’s one reason my favorite Christmas carol is Joy to the World by Isaac Watts:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come;

Let Earth receive her King.

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And Heaven and Nature sing.